Background: To support health policy makers in setting priorities, quantifying the potential effects of tobacco control on the burden of disease is useful. However, smoking is related to a variety of diseases and the dynamic effects of smoking cessation on the incidence of these diseases differ. Furthermore, many people who quit smoking relapse, most of them within a relatively short period.
Methods: In this paper, a method is presented for calculating the effects of smoking cessation interventions on disease incidence that allows to deal with relapse and the effect of time since quitting. A simulation model is described that links smoking to the incidence of 14 smoking related diseases. To demonstrate the model, health effects are estimated of two interventions in which part of current smokers in the Netherlands quits smoking.To illustrate the advantages of the model its results are compared with those of two simpler versions of the model. In one version we assumed no relapse after quitting and equal incidence rates for all former smokers. In the second version, incidence rates depend on time since cessation, but we assumed still no relapse after quitting.
Results: Not taking into account time since smoking cessation on disease incidence rates results in biased estimates of the effects of interventions. The immediate public health effects are overestimated, since the health risk of quitters immediately drops to the mean level of all former smokers. However, the long-term public health effects are underestimated since after longer periods of time the effects of past smoking disappear and so surviving quitters start to resemble never smokers. On balance, total health gains of smoking cessation are underestimated if one does not account for the effect of time since cessation on disease incidence rates. Not taking into account relapse of quitters overestimates health gains substantially.
Conclusion: The results show that simulation models are sensitive to assumptions made in specifying the model. The model should be specified carefully in accordance with the questions it is supposed to answer. If the aim of the model is to estimate effects of smoking cessation interventions on mortality and morbidity, one should include relapse of quitters and dependency on time since cessation of incidence rates of smoking-related chronic diseases. A drawback of such models is that data requirements are extensive.